Interview: Kostas Vernikos, The Man Who Called A Sporting Miracle
AGONAsport's George Tsitsonis recently spoke with the the man who called Greece's miracle run to the Euro 2004 title, Kostas Vernikos.
Kostas Vernikos has announced countless games in a long and distinguished career as one of Greece’s top sports commentators. In addition to his work for outlets such as MEGA, ERT, and SKAI Radio Stations, Vernikos has also held such lofty titles as Head of Media Operations for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and Head of National and International Media Communications and TV Operations for the 2011 Athens Special Olympics Summer World Games. He currently works as Head of International Relations for Olympiacos FC, a role he has held since 2010.
Vernikos has covered 7 Summer and Winter Olympics and all in all has commentated on some 18 different championship football finals from World Cups to EUROs to Champions’ League and beyond. But, even for an individual that has seen it all from a sporting perspective, Vernikos holds a special place in his heart for Greece’s epic triumph at the 2004 European Championships.
AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis recently interviewed this highly respected sportscaster, specifically delving into Vernikos’ experiences in Portugal that fateful summer when rank outsiders Greece lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy to the absolute joy of Greeks across the planet. What follows is a first-hand account of a man that not only witnessed history, but of someone who in fact lent his voice to commentating on a true sporting miracle.
AGONAsport: What did you say to yourself as to what Greece could accomplish before the start of Euro 2004?
Kostas Vernikos: Anyone that tells you that Greece had high goals before Euro 2004 is telling you something far from the truth. The hope was for some good performances, a goal, and if we won a game that would be great. We wanted to forget the horrific display at the 1994 World Cup in the United States where we lost all three games scoring zero goals and conceding 10.
AS: Karagounis scores the goal in the opener. What were your thoughts and feelings?
KV: It was an amazing surprise. Early on in the first 10 minutes, we saw the team have belief and contest every chance. Georgio didn't shoot to just give up the ball. He shot to score and he began celebrating before the ball crossed the line.
AS: Throughout the tournament you talked with many players. As the tournament went on, could you see the players’ belief grow for something unthinkable to happen?
KV: Day by day something great was being built. From the start we never discussed winning the actual competition. After the game against France everything changed. Because when you eliminate a team of that magnitude and talent you have every right to believe in the dream.
AS: At what point did you say to yourself that the national team could do it, could lift the trophy?
KV: When I saw Nedved get injured and was then subbed off in the semifinal against the Czech Republic I understood that even the galaxy was with us. And when I saw the powerful shots of the Czech players just graze our goal posts and go out on multiple occasions, I was convinced that something big was awaiting us.
AS: As the run went on, could you explain the euphoria that you witnessed within the Greeks fans?
KV: The joy was evident from the first moments with many smiling faces in the streets of Porto. Not only was the joy greater day by day, but the number of Greek travelers from all parts of the world to Portugal increased.
AS: Did you have a clear picture of what was happening back in Greece and abroad after each win?
KV: I think it was hard for us to understand what was going on back home. My wife, my friends, and my coworkers told me what was going on. But it's one thing to hear it and another to witness it. It is a whole other dimension.
AS: France, Czech Republic, Portugal. Did you believe that we could win each game?
KV: To be honest, I was really worried about the games against France and the Czech Republic but I was not worried at all during the final. I was very calm. I knew what we would see. A controlled game, good defense, and at some point the goal would come. That is exactly what happened. In the final seconds I got a little worried that the dream would be ruined from some stravoklotskia but all went well in the end.
AS: What was going through your mind while you were in the booth? How did you feel? Enthusiastic? Worried? Stressed?
KV: I actually was not in a booth but out in the open in the stands just like all the other announcers back then. At one point, I stopped taking notes and I commentated standing up. Cameras from other foreign channels were taping us during the broadcast to record our reactions during the game.
AS: If I remember correctly, you called Dellas’ goal before it happened at the end of the first extra time against the Czech Republic. Were you certain that Greece would score at that point?
KV: It was a spontaneous comment. I remember saying it is the final minute and we won the corner, if only a goal would come now. I said it and it happened, just like when you want something very very much. It was a beautiful moment. I did not even believe that I had asked for a goal and the wish came true.
AS: Take us on a journey through your experiences in the final. The night before the final. The actual game. After the game. What do you remember?
KV: The night of the final was a difficult time for me. Everyone was looking for a ticket at the last minute, but there were none. And the worst thing about it is that I found a couple of tickets for some people that were coming from England and in the end, they did not come. Just imagine the joy of a young kid when you give him an extra ticket while going to the stadium. I have rarely seen a more joyous smile. The night before the game I had a drink with Antoni Katsaros at a Brazilian bar next to hotel we stayed at, to calm our nerves.
Everything during the game went beautifully. I understood at that moment I carried the joy and pride of an entire ethnicity and I tried to respond as best as I could. I tried to say the things that I would want to hear if I was watching the game back home, with of course the intensity that every Greek felt, but not forgetting that football was just a beautiful game.
AS: How did Greece pull off this football miracle?
KV: To put it simply, everything that I said during the trophy presentation happened. When Greeks work united and determined they can do miracles. When disagreements and disputes prevail, we end up with how Greece is today. Rehhagel rounded up a group of players that were criticized by everyone and he convinced them to play one for himself and for the whole team. He accomplished this and each player played to their greatest potential. The Greek national team is not some big team in the history of football but one thing is certain, in those 20 days they were the best team and that is why they won the tournament. Very simple.
AS: Thank you Kosta, it is an honor to talk with you. Anything else you would like to add?
KV: I thank you all for thinking of me. I wish you all the best there afar and to always remember and think of the most beautiful corner of the world, our Greece.